Increasing Coherence and Connections in Math for Middle School Students
In the Menifee Union School District (MUSD), the number one goal of district staff is successfully preparing students for college and careers. Standards serve as the expectation for what students should know, demonstrate, and be able to do, and the intent is that rigorous, comprehensive standards guide the instruction in all classrooms.
- A lack of coherence within and across units and grade levels in math in grades 6–8
After the California Common Core State Standards: Mathematics (CA CCSSM) were adopted, MUSD was one of several districts in Riverside County that developed its own Units of Study based on the new standards. “At the middle school level, we pulled together teams of teachers to dive deep into the standards and bundle them together into Units of Study,” said Dennis A. Regus, director of assessment and accountability for MUSD. “After three years of using the units, we found there was a lack of coherence and connection between them. We were covering all the standards, but it was in a disjointed way. Our teachers told me that if there was something else out there that could address the rigor and coherence of the standards, they’d like to try it.”
During the 2017–18 school year, MUSD implemented 6–8 Math in all of its middle schools. To prepare for the curriculum rollout, teachers attended two days of IM Certified professional learning in the summer. The professional learning was delivered by IM Certified Facilitators who work hand-in-hand with the authors of the curriculum to share a deep understanding of the mathematics and pedagogical approaches across grade levels, units, and lessons.
“The Common Core State Standards present a steep learning curve for many teachers because they’re being asked to teach in a way that’s different from the way they were taught. Plus, in middle schools, some math teachers may have a math credential while others have a multiple subject credential,” said Regus. “IM Certified professional learning meets teachers where they are. It brings the standards to the forefront and reminds teachers — no matter where they are in the progression — exactly what standards-aligned instruction should look like in the classroom.”
In the two-day professional learning session, teachers examined the 6–8 Math curriculum architecture, including the structure of a lesson and coherence between units and grade levels. They explored the curriculum materials and built-in supports for students, and discussed the norms, routines, and structures in the curriculum. During the school year, teachers also participated in seven virtual professional learning sessions to take a deeper look into the mathematics and routines within individual units at each grade level. In March 2018, IM Certified Facilitators returned to MUSD to conduct professional learning on instructional routines for ELLs and the 5 practices framework based on NCTM’s “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions.”
“The 5 practices framework and the ideas of focus, coherence, and rigor start with teachers choosing high-quality tasks. With 6–8 Math, teachers no longer have to find high-quality tasks because they’re already built into the curriculum,” said Regus. “It also provides the connections and coherence we were missing before.”
Using the problem-based core curriculum, teachers are developing students’ mathematical thinking skills through questioning, discussion, and real-world contexts and connections.
“We wanted to move away from a direct-instruction model toward an instructional model that would increase rigor while also making math more enjoyable for students. 6–8 Math allows students to grapple with math, and it gives them the opportunity to engage in group work, which they enjoy. This helps them build and apply 21st century skills and learn how to tackle problems they’ve never seen before,” said Regus. “6–8 Math supports our vision for math, and it dovetails with our district’s college and career readiness goals.”
- Positive changes in students’ and teachers’ mindsets
- Increased coherence within and across units and grade levels
- Increased student discourse
- Students working at a higher level of rigor
Positive mindsets about math
“One of the biggest benefits of 6–8 Math is that our students now see math differently. They see that it is problem-based, that mistakes can be valuable in their learning, and that it’s about the process, not just the result,” said Regus. “This is not only important for their success in math but in life.”
“Our teachers are changing their mindsets, too. Before, when teachers were planning lessons, they didn’t necessarily step back and look at the big picture of how the lessons they taught in September would connect to lessons they taught in December or March. Thanks to the coherence of the 6–8 Math curriculum, they now have a better understanding of these connections and about how mathematics is about building mastery over time, rather than simply mastering one skill or concept and then moving to the next one,” he said.
Increased student discourse
“One of the other big benefits of 6–8 Math is the discourse it fosters. Instructional routines such as Number Talks and Notice and Wonder have noticeably increased the amount of student discourse in our math classrooms. This gives teachers the ability to allow students to talk about the math, rather than being the sage on the stage,” said Regus.
Helpful routines for ELLs
The curriculum’s instructional routines are also helpful for ELLs, who comprise more than 10 percent of the district’s student population.
“We have a district-wide focus on close reading across content areas. The Three Reads routine supports this focus in math and students really enjoy it. This mathematical language routine is also helpful for English learners because it gives them more opportunity to decipher the text and understand the problem so they can engage in the mathematics,” said Regus.
More connections and more rigor
In their second year implementing 6–8 Math, teachers are already seeing the benefits of having an aligned, coherent progression in the curriculum.
“Our seventh grade teachers, for example, are saying that their students who began using 6–8 Math as sixth graders are making many more connections and working at a higher level of rigor,” said Regus. “They’re better able to participate in discussions. They’re persevering more and they’re enjoying the challenge.”